Archive for November, 2009

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20).”

Greetings from the worship service — at Starbucks. I have a confession to make. I don’t go to church. In fact, I haven’t been in years.  Before you stop reading or engage in judging me, please read on.

I went to church up until we moved to Finland in 2006.  I hit a rough patch then in my life, including spiritually.  Church may have helped, but I didn’t  believe any of the local ones would. None of the local churches appealed to me.  Almost all the services were conducted in Finnish, which I am still poor at.  In addition, the one organized English service in town didn’t do much for me either. So I just quit going.

Don’t get me wrong. I held on to the Lord with all my might despite not going to church.A friend from abroad helped keep me going. I even did personal Bible study and went through my daily prayer list regularly . But in the inner reaches of my spirit I knew I was rejecting church for more reasons than just language and theology. Frankly, I just didn’t care for God’s people all that much. There were lots of reasons for that which I won’t go into, but it was what it was.

Now I find myself back in the United States. Language is no longer an issue. There are plenty of theologically sound churches around. I should go, and eventually I will. The “God’s people” issue is still gnawing at me, though, so I am a little reticent.

But I have found one big reason why I should go to church: communion.  Jesus told us to do it (I Corinthians 11:23-26).  Minimally, we should take communion because we remember Jesus work on the Cross for us. But there are other reasons. One pastor, Dr. Robert F. Browning, says communion “provides a vital service. It invites participants to quit ignoring faults and confront weaknesses, to confront the hurt and pain unwise decisions inflict upon others and them, to see the folly of stumbling in darkness rather than walking in the light.” He also says it helps us quit our posing and become vulnerable before God, doing so by confessing our sins.

Not only does communion help us reflect on our fault, according to the The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod it offers the benefits of Christ’s consolation, encouragement and cheer from Him.

The benefits of communion motivate me to return to church.  The Christmas season is a great time to do so, and I am looking forward to finding a place to go in my new community with my family.


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Michael Oher is a homeless African-American teenager in the movie Blind Side, an inspirational story of second chances.  Based on a true story, Michael’s life is salvaged by a caring well-to-do white woman. Leigh Ann Tuohy invites Michael to live with her and her family. The Tuohys eventually become Michael’s legal guardians and he goes on to be successful. He becomes a star offensive lineman, a dean’s list student.  He eventually gets drafted by the Baltimore Ravens of the NFL.

Contrast Michael’s story with that of the so-called friends he left behind in his drug and crime-infested neighborhood. They are stuck in a web they either can’t or won’t get out of.  One of them, himself a young man who had the potential of being a star football player, eventually dies a tragic death. The fate of Michael Oher’s friends should be a warning to the young men of their generation.  But this cycle of poverty and the things that come with it can’t always be overcome alone.  The people who are knee-deep in this muck need a helping hand upwards.  

The people of ancient Israel also got involves in immorality, leading God to wipe out many of them.  The apostle Paul said that their deaths were a warning to believers to avoid such a life (I Corinthians 10:1-13). 

But we relatively well-to-do Christians get so caught up in our own holiness, that we forget those who are mired in poverty and poor choices.  The cycle of poverty and the things that come with it can’t always be overcome alone.  The people who are knee-deep in this muck need a helping hand upwards. Shame on the Christians with means who ignore their plight.

Frustrated by their condition, the poor see  involvement in a gang, selling drugs, selling their bodies or engagement in some other illicit activity as the only way out of their mess. It’s easy for those who aren’t living in the shoes of these folks to say that it is their own fault, that they are getting what’s coming to them because they are irresponsible.

Maybe in some cases this is true. But the real irresponsibility is with those who can help who choose to turn a blind  eye and ignore the exhortation of Jesus to not forget the poor.

Not everyone has the means or the gifting or the capability to adopt a down-and-out teenager as the Tuohys did. But we can all do something within our gifting to alleviate the suffering of people who have no way out of their problems.

We can all be a Leigh Ann Tuohy in some way.

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 It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel (Proverbs 20:3).”

Blogging is a great way to be able to express your opinion in this day and age.  For the most part, you do it incognito. Occasionally your friends and relatives read your thoughts, but  they probably already know your ideas anyhow.

The reason the impersonal nature of blogging is a positive thing today in the world of opinion-sharing is that we have become a nation of political correctness.  Depending on who you work or hang with, you can offend people easily by telling them you either like or don’t like the current president, listen to or don’t listen to a certain cable network, or listen to or would NEVER listen to a certain talk show host.

We also find our ideas squelched in the workplace, church, or any other group endeavor. Only the strong survive in environments like these where there are power brokers who hold the only opinions that matter. It can be extremely frustrating to those of us who like others to respect our thinking.

Depending on our temperament, we may not be willing to back down from a fight when others are offended by our thinking. After all, this is America, land of the free and home of the brave, right?

But as Christians, we have a higher calling than to get into arguments with our acquaintances, coworkers and strangers over things that don’t matter in the long run. What matters are things of eternal significance.

This was the apostle Paul’s attitude.  He gave up his rights to in order to be in a position to gain a hearing for the gospel of Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 9:19-23). Perhaps this should be our strategy to if we intend to make an impact for God’s kingdom. If what comes out of our mouth is strategically placed comments about the goodness of God instead of a defense of our opinions, we might have a better chance  to do so (Psalm 40:3).

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“A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).”

Today I had a disagreement with someone over how to handle a problem.  We both are experienced in the area of concern, but the person I had the disagreement with is more familiar with the context of the situation.  I, on  the other hand, have a lot of knowledge about how to handle this problem, also. 

The party I was disagreeing with firmly believed that on my current course the problem would get worse and result in failure.  This angered me because I felt the person wasn’t respecting my own experience and knowledge. It was this person’s way or the highway, at least that was the attitude thay was being conveyed.  I was tempted to make a big deal over the argument, but I felt the better course was to cool down and live to fight another day.

The Corinthians in the early church had a disagreement, also.  It was about whether or not to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols.   Some were smart enough to know that an idol was just an inanimate object. Others, however, had come out of a lifestyle where sacrifice of food to idols had a spiritual significance and it bothered them to eat the food. They felt they were dishonoring the true God (I Corinthians 8:4-8). 

The apostle Paul had a solution. The people who thought they were smart should bow to the wishes of those who had a weaker conscience.  This was the loving thing to do. He said, “We know that all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (I Corinthians 8:1).”

When there is a legitimate disagreement between people who both have valid points of view, sometimes pride gets in the way.  We have to be right.  But it is probably best to submit to the other person if we are the only person who is harmed.  Maybe they think they are smarter than us. It doesn’t matter. It’s best to overlook their attitude and love them in return.

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“For in his own eyes he flatters himself  too much to detect or hate his sin.  The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful;  he has ceased to be wise and to do good (Psalm 36:2,3).”

When I was a young man I had a mentor who I admired for his zeal for the Lord. We had our conflicts, but he was instrumental in helping me to grow as a Christian. He was a pillar of the faith. He even spent some time on the mission field.

One day I was contacted by this dear man, who asked to meet me at a restaurant.  As I prayed over the meal, I looked up and he was just looking straight ahead with his eyes open.  I was a little taken aback since I knew this fellow was devout and would normally be praying over his meal.

It didn’t take long for him to tell me why he wanted to meet.  He was leaving the faith and pursuing another lifestyle and he wanted me to be his messenger to our old Christian crowd.  I guess he was tired of explaining it to everyone one-on-one. I told my friend that God would take him back, but I knew he had made up his mind. I left the restaurant stunned.

What causes a person to reject the faith? I suppose there are many reasons, but I believe one of them is that a person begins to think that he has more wisdom on how to live his life than God.  This strikes me as odd. When you read the words of the apostle Paul about marriage and sexual matters in I Corinthians 6, he just makes a lot of sense.  His advice is quite sound. Some of it comes from him, and some of it comes from God. Either way, you know it is solid. 

Paul said that God wants us to live in peace. He also said that he wanted believers to be free from concerns. His advice is meant to give us a stable, trouble-free life. 

My friend obviously thought he had a better way. It is not my place to judge him, and the old adage “there but for the grace of God go I” surely applies to me.  I guess the difference is that in my middle age I have truly awakened to the wisdom my mentor relayed to me as a young man:  sin can destroy me.  Unfortunately, to my knowledge he has never returned to live according to the life he taught me how to live. It’s very sad.

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” As for the saints who are in the land, they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight (Psalm 16:3).”

As a language teacher, I know that one bad attitude in my class can infect the whole group.  These people tend to be self absorbed and their behavior, or lack thereof, dominates the atmosphere.  I have found it best to to at first try and gently guide such students toward appropriate conduct. But if that doesn’t work, I try to find a way to ease them out of the class.  Although it is rare, a major confrontation may have to occur to resolve the situation.

Unfortunately, I have learned that there are also bad apples among the people of God.  Some of the worst treatment I have received has been at their hands. It probably seemed even worse than what I encounter among unbelievers because my expectations were different. I expected love from them. I got something different.

I have made it my practice to avoid those folks because they have a negative impact on me and my family.  This may be a little rash, and as I get older I am beginning to think that life is too short and have begun to change my stance. But I am still wary of believers who have disrespected me.

The apostle Paul made it clear that for deep offenses, believers are to disassociate themselves from ill-behaving Christians (I Corinthians 5:1-13). So avoidance is sometimes a good strategy, for our sakes, the sake of our loved ones and for the sake of the offending party in the long run.

My challenge to myself is to not to become one of those people who should be avoided, and to find a healthy fellowship of true believers who are real people, but loving.  Brothers and sisters in Christ should be a delight to live with, not a chore.

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“As the deer pants for streams of water,  so my soul pants for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. 
When can I go and meet with God?…Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God (Psalm 42:1-2,11).”

Why is it life is so great for some people and a living hell for others?  Some have health, wealth, and ease.  Others are sick, poor and work themselves to death. 

The apostle Paul compared his own lot to that of the Corinthians and told them that as he looked at things, he was at the end of the line in life (I Corinthians 4:9). It seemed to Paul that when God handed out the goodies, they ran out when he got to the door with his bag.

The Corinthians were rich. Paul was poor. They were thought to be wise. He was considered a fool.  The Corinthians were strong, but he was weak.  They were honored and he was dishonored.   Paul was hungry, thirsty, cursed, persecuted and slandered.  He was the “scum of the earth” and the world’s garbage. (I Corinthians 14:8-13).

Yet, Paul blessed those who reviled him and endured. How could he do that? Could it be that he knew that although the world considered him a loser, he was in fact the biggest winner of all time?  Could it be that he knew that all the suffering he endured was what kept him closely connected to the living God? 

Yes, Paul knew life’s little secret. Life’s losers are really life’s winners because there is something about pain that draws us to God. Those of us who think we are winners just aren’t aware of  this, and neither are many of us who are suffering. But Paul understood the meaning of his own suffering. His pain is what made him a founding father of God’s church.  Paul’s comprehension of his inheritance in Christ allowed him to live his life as a winner, especially in God’s eyes.

No one should wish suffering upon themselves. But if it comes our way, we can rejoice that God gives us hope in it and we are especially blessed in life. God is giving us a major headstart in knowing Him.  The key to enduring the suffering is having the desire to know Him.  When we want Him more than anything else, then the suffering is just a means of obtaining our heart’s desire.

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